Legislative Lowdown: The five trillion dollar man

Brian Darling Liberty Government Affairs
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President Barack Obama has done something no other president has ever done.

Just as Barry Bonds set the single-season record for home runs, Obama is the debt leader of politics. He has set the single-term record for debt, breaking the $1 trillion mark every year in office. This week, he hit the $5 trillion mark, an all-time record for debt racked up during a single presidential term.

Pat Toomey’s budget

In stark contrast to the tax-and-spending ideas of the Obama administration stand the ideas being advanced by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).

Next week, Toomey is hoping to get a vote on his budget for Fiscal Year 2012. His plan would balance the budget in eight years, reduce publicly held debt to approximately 56% of gross domestic product (GDP) by 2022 and lower spending to 18.3% of GDP.

Sen. Paul’s plan balances in five years and would jettison the Departments of Commerce, Education, Energy and Housing and Urban Development. Paul has been joined by Sens. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) in his effort to cut spending by $4 trillion from Obama-promised levels.

Senate liberals have other plans. This past week, the Senate Budget Committee held a fake mark-up of Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad’s (D-N.D.) plan. Members of the committee were presented with a plan and not allowed any votes on the resolution. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has pledged not to allow the Senate to take a vote on a budget resolution this year, so this was merely a dog-and-pony show designed to make it look like liberals have budget ideas.

Sen. Toomey was so outraged by Conrad’s antics that he took to the Senate floor: “I don’t think that anyone really can dispute the notion that the greatest challenge facing our federal government right now is that we’re on a completely unsustainable fiscal path.” He continued: “And yet … the majority party, the party that has asked to be in control of the entire federal government and, in fact, is in control of the Senate, refuses to lay out a vision for where they want to take this country.”

Let’s hope the Senate schedules a vote on Toomey’s budget.

Senate going postal

The Senate has been considering a so-called “21st Century Postal Service Act of 2011,” S. 1789. According to Heritage Action for America, this bill includes a massive a $41 billion bailout. It also does nothing to reform the United States Postal Service (USPS).

The postal service needs to end Saturday delivery and cut some employees that are not a necessary part of the modern-day postal service. I love the people who deliver the mail, and they work for an institution that I hold dear memories of. Yet it needs reform, and this bill does not lock in any significant ones. Maybe it should be sent to the dead-letter office.

Internet sales tax

Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) and Sen. Jim DeMint are fighting an unconstitutional destination-based sales tax idea pending in the House and Senate.

“The Supreme Court has correctly ruled against forcing businesses to collect taxes for states they don’t reside in,” DeMint told The Hill. “States should focus on lowering taxes and competing for new businesses, not increasing taxes on businesses and Americans in other states.” The Supreme Court ruled over 20 years ago that state governments lack the power to force companies to collect a tax on Internet purchases unless a business is located in the state where the purchase was made.

Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) has introduced the “Marketplace Fairness Act,” S. 1832, which would allow states to force businesses to collect taxes in states where they don’t have physical presences. In the House, Reps. Steve Womack (R-Ark.) and Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) have introduced similar legislation, H.R. 3179. Some consider these ideas patently unfair and worry that it would lead to more regulations on the Internet.

The GSA parties on

Even before the scandal with partying officials of the General Services Administration (GSA), Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) was fighting to curtail government conferences and taxpayer-sponsored travel. The GSA is stinging from the disclosure that it spent some $800,000 on a conference held in Las Vegas in 2010. The scandal is so broad that GSA officials have taken the Fifth Amendment to avoid testifying at congressional oversight hearings.

Sen. Coburn is expected to push for a vote next week on an amendment to avoid GSA parties on the taxpayer dime. Coburn has already forced a vote on this idea in the past. His ideas include cutting conference expenditures by 20% and requiring a quarterly summary of conferences. These seem like common-sense ideas. The question is whether Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will allow a vote on this measure.

Brian Darling is Senior Fellow for Government Studies at The Heritage Foundation.